Author Archives: Jennifer Mitchell, CAE

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 19, 2019

ATPE’s Governmental Relations team is reporting from Houston this week, where hundreds of our members are here for the ATPE Summit and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Here’s the latest:


ATPE State Officers for 2019-20 took their oath of office at the ATPE Summit in Houston, July 18, 2019.

The ATPE Summit, our annual convention for members, is taking place this week in Houston. On Wednesday, members had an opportunity to hear a legislative update from the ATPE lobbyists, including our Washington-based lobbyist David Pore. Topics of the presentation and a Q&A session that followed included the outcomes of the 2019 legislative session and implementation of the school finance bill, House Bill 3, along with developments related to federal legislation on Social Security. Yesterday, the ATPE House of Delegates met and elected new state officers for the 2019-20 membership year. Delegates also amended and adopted the ATPE Legislative Program, a series of statements reflecting the members’ legislative priorities.


The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) board of trustees is meeting in Austin this week. Board materials and a link to a livestream of the meeting can found here. During this week’s meeting, the board announced that TRS would distribute the 13th check provided by Senate Bill (SB) 12 this September. ATPE supported SB 12, which along with an infusion of over a billion dollars this session and additional increases in subsequent years brings the TRS trust fund into actuarial soundness. Read additional information and frequently asked questions about SB 12  here. In announcing the plans for issuance of the 13th check in September, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie explained that it is important for the agency to cut the check prior to the November board meeting, in case any volatility in the stock market temporarily pushes the fund over the 31-year window within which it is considered actuarially sound.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) its continuing its video series about this year’s major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3. This week’s installment in the informational series focuses on changes to pre-Kindergarten laws under the bill. Check out the latest video and more HB 3 resources here on TEA’s HB 3 website.


86th Texas Legislature passes school finance bill

Tonight, the Texas House and Senate both gave final approval to compromise legislation that will spend more than $11 billion over the next two years on public education and providing property tax relief to Texans.

The House first passed the conference committee’s version of House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee and has spearheaded efforts to reform the state’s school finance system over the course of several years. The vote in the House was 139 to zero. About two hours later, the Senate followed suit, passing the HB 3 conference committee report by a vote of 30 to zero. Now the bill heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott for signing.

Read ATPE’s statement on the passage of HB 3 here. For analysis of the bill from ATPE’s lobby team, check out our blog post from yesterday. ATPE congratulates Chairman Huberty and all those who worked on this major effort to improve funding for Texas public schools.

Tomorrow is the last day for the House and Senate to take substantive action on remaining bills, and they are expected to vote on the state budget, school safety legislation contained in Senate Bill 11, and Senate Bill 12, a bill to increase contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and provide a 13th check to retied educators. Stay tuned to our blog here and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the very latest updates.

State leaders announce deal on school finance, property tax relief, and TRS legislation

At a press conference held this afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker of the House Rep. Dennis Bonnen announced that a deal has been reached on legislation to address school finance, property tax relief, and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Flanked by members of the conference committees that worked on the bills, the “big three” shared highlights of the final negotiated versions of House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 12 and thanked those who worked on the compromise.

A flyer was shared with reporters touting major components of the agreement, including increasing the basic allotment for schools; providing $5 billion in property tax relief; funding full-day pre-K for low-income students and increasing the funding to serve other students with special needs; calling for outcomes-based funding tied to college, career, and military readiness; reducing recapture by 47% in the next two years; and offering $2 billion in various forms to assist with “dynamic teacher compensation.”

Specific details on the educator compensation piece are unknown at this point, but the new version of HB 3 has been characterized as including both a merit pay program and funding to increase salaries for veteran teachers (those with at least five years of experience), librarians, counselors, and school nurses. Immediately following the press conference, HB 3 author and House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty told reporters that the merit pay program would not be test-focused but would use T-TESS to help determine which teachers are eligible to become recognized, exemplary, or master teachers. Chairman Huberty added that Texas Tech University would be tapped to act as a “referee” for the program.

The deal announced today also provides for increased funding into the TRS pension program in order to make it actuarially sound. Also, it is believed that the state would substantially raise its contributions for active educators’ healthcare premiums under this agreement.

Actual bill language has not yet been released, but ATPE will update our Teach the Vote blog with additional details as soon as our lobbyists have a chance to see and analyze the new bills.

With the legislative session clock ticking, major education bills remain pending

Four days remain in the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature, and significant deadlines for bills attach to each day that passes.

On Tuesday night, the House worked actively until the midnight hour, which was the deadline for Senate bills to be passed on second reading in order to stay alive. (The deadlines for House bills to make it out of the lower chamber and be sent over to the Senate already passed earlier this month.) This week’s related deadline for passing Senate bills on third reading and final passage on Wednesday night was less dramatic, with House members wrapping up their business by about 7 pm. Over on the other side of the capitol, the Senate worked late into the night last night to catch up and get a number of House bills passed on second and third reading.

Among the bills that survived this week’s deadlines was the ATPE-supported Senate Bill 11, containing a number of school safety and mental health initiatives that were a top priority for the governor this session. Read more about that bill’s curious journey through the legislative process here.

The deadlines hitting this week signal that the overwhelming majority of the thousands of bills filed this session are dead (for the most part), leaving only those bills that have been approved in some form by both the House and Senate. If both chambers have approved a bill in the same form, then the bill is enrolled and sent to the governor. The process is trickier for bills that get amended in different ways by the House or Senate. Each chamber will spend the next couple of days examining their bills that have come over from the other chamber with amendments and deciding what to do with them. The author of each bill can move to concur with the changes made by the other chamber, or can request the appointment of a conference committee to negotiate a final version of the bill. Friday, May 24, is the last day for House members to make such decisions.

Some of this session’s most important bills, especially relating to public education and ATPE’s legislative priorities, remain pending in conference committees at this point. These include the budget, a bill to increase contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), and a major school finance and reform bill that has dominated the conversations this session.

  • For House Bill 3, the school finance bill, senators and state representatives have taken very different approaches on how to tackle the issue of educator pay. With Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen repeatedly proclaiming “the time is now” for school finance reform, the House approved HB 3 with an across-the-board pay raise for all school district employees except administrators. Under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate has favored a larger pay raise for teachers and librarians only, and senators also included in their version of HB 3 a controversial merit pay plan that has been pushed hard by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. The conference committee for HB 3 also must grapple with differing views on how to help school districts generate sufficient funds for their operations while also facilitating property tax relief to homeowners.
  • The TRS bill, Senate Bill 12, is designed to increase state funding for the educators’ pension fund and give current retirees a 13th check, but its final language largely depends on how much money is available to achieve those goals. That decision hinges on what happens with HB 3 to address the state’s larger school finance needs.

A press conference scheduled for this afternoon by the governor, lieutenant governor, and house speaker may provide insight on the progress of these conference committees.

Sunday, May 26, is the very last day that lawmakers can vote on conference committee reports, which contain the negotiated versions of those bills. The pressure is on those legislators appointed to conference committees to work out agreements between the House and Senate language of these bills. In some cases, conference committees may add entirely new language to the bill and can ask the House and Senate to approve a motion to go “outside the bounds” of the original legislation. Even for the bills that make it all the way through the legislative process, there is another waiting period in which the governor can decide whether to exercise his veto authority. June 16 is the deadline for the governor to act.

The takeaway is that we still have a few days left to wait and see what, if any, compromises are struck on major bills like House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 12. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for updates and follow us on Twitter for major developments in these final days of the session.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 3, 2019

We’re wrapping up another week of legislative action at the Texas State Capitol. Here’s the latest news from your ATPE Governmental Relations staff:


The session’s major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, is set for a debate on the floor of the Senate on Monday, May 6, 2019. While the Senate’s version of the bill contains several positive changes that would improve funding for public education, ATPE and other education groups have grave concerns about certain aspects of the bill that tie funding and compensation to student performance.

The Senate Education Committee called a meeting inside the Senate chamber to vote on House Bill 3, May 1, 2019.

The Senate floor debate on HB 3 was originally planned for today, but postponed in response to complaints that senators needed more time to prepare floor amendments. The Senate Education Committee accelerated its schedule this week for the school finance bill, asking members to vote HB 3 out of committee during a hurriedly called meeting on Wednesday. Chairman Larry Taylor apologized for the rapid pace, which he attributed to House deadlines for passing related legislation to fund the school finance bill.

Several committee members complained about being forced to vote on a new substitute version of the bill that they only received hours before the meeting. Three senators asked to be marked as “present not voting,” while others said they would vote for HB 3 in committee, despite having objections to parts of it, only to keep the process moving and with the understanding that they would have more time for consideration of floor amendments and a robust debate. Read more about the committee’s vote on HB 3 here.

ATPE urges educators to contact their senators and ask them to remove bad language from the bill, including a merit pay program that would replace existing evaluation laws with a new system, largely controlled by the appointed commissioner of education. ATPE opposes the plan, which dictates new evaluation criteria including student surveys of teachers and calls for a statewide competitive ranking of all teachers that will depend heavily on their students’ STAAR test results. ATPE members can log into Advocacy Central to learn more about the bill and send a quick message to senators.


While most of the attention has been on the school finance legislation, the House Public Education Committee and Senate Education Committee turned their attention this week to other bills sent over from the opposite chamber. On Tuesday, the House committee heard bills on student discipline and school safety. The Senate committee also heard bills pertaining to student health and safety and voted to advance some pending bills that would require school districts to share more financial information on their websites. For a full recap of Tuesday’s hearings from our ATPE lobbyists, check out Andrea Chevalier’s blog post on the House Public Education Committee and Mark Wiggins’s blog post on the Senate Education Committee hearing. Both committees will meet again on Tuesday, May 7.

 


ELECTION UPDATE: Tomorrow is uniform election day and an opportunity for many voters to cast ballots on local elections for bonds, school board trustees, and other local matters. Find more election information at VoteTexas.gov or contact your county clerk to find out what might be on your ballot locally. Let’s help reinforce the message that Texas educators care enough to vote in every election!


Last week we reported briefly on the April 26 meeting of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier attended the meeting and provided a full summary of the board’s deliberations, which included hearing mixed testimony on a plan to replace certain certification exams. Learn more about last Friday’s SBEC meeting here.


As we roll into the last month of the legislative session, here’s a look at where some other bills of interest to public education stakeholders currently stand.

ATPE has supported legislation to increase state funding for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension fund, making it possible for future cost of living adjustments. Senate Bill (SB) 12 would accomplish those goals and provide retirees with a 13th check. The House and Senate have passed different versions of the bill with near unanimous support, and we expect the bill to be referred soon to a conference committee. Learn more about ATPE’s push for pension improvements at PayTheBillTX.org.

The 86th legislature has been considering numerous bills related to school safety, declared an emergency issue this session by Gov. Greg Abbott. One of the most high-profile bills is Sen. Larry Taylor’s SB 11. The ATPE-supported bill passed the full Senate this week by a vote of 29-2 and has been sent to the House, where it will be heard on Tuesday by the House Public Education Committee.

The House Public Education Committee will also hear another bill by Chairman Taylor next week that ATPE does not support. It’s SB 1455 aimed at expanding virtual schools in Texas despite their questionable performance record. ATPE provided oral and written testimony against the bill when it was heard on the Senate side. The House committee hearing on this one is set for Tuesday.

ATPE has been closely watching a couple of bills aimed at expanding the statutory definition of “political advertising” for the purpose of limiting educators’ ability to communicate about political matters during the school day. SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon has passed the full Senate and been referred to the House Elections Committee. The extremely broad bill restricts educators from using “any form of communication” to support or oppose candidates or measures, and it even adds criminal penalties for educators who “facilitate” legislative advocacy by students. SB 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes is still on the Senate Intent Calendar awaiting a floor debate by the upper chamber. That bill also extends restrictions on political advertising to school district WiFi networks in a way that would criminalize educators’ reading or communicating about politics even using their own personal smartphones. SB 904 also punishes third-party organizations that send political messages to public email addresses, such as those used by school districts. ATPE members can find additional resources on these bills on Advocacy Central.

Other bills of interest to educators are HB 281 by Rep. Mayes Middleton and SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall that would prohibit school districts from using public funds to pay for lobbying activities. The House bill has not yet been heard by the full House. The related Senate bill was passed by the full Senate on a vote of 18-13 and has been referred to the House Committee on State Affairs.

For the latest updates on education bills being considered this legislative session, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and our team of lobbyists on Twitter.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 19, 2019

The legislature packed a lot of work into a short week ahead of this holiday weekend. Here’s a summary of the latest education-related developments from our ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Senate Education Committee meeting April 16, 2019.

This week was a busy one for the Senate Education Committee. On Tuesday, the committee chose to postpone its originally posted hearing of the House’s school finance reform bill, House Bill 3. The committee postponed the hearing of HB 3 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) in order to flesh out more of the Senate’s committee substitute for the bill. We expect HB 3 to heard later next week and are urging educators to reach out to their senators about the bill.

ATPE supported HB 3 as passed by the House almost unanimously. The bill was amended from its original version as filed to remove controversial language that would allow school districts to opt out of the the minimum salary schedule and fund merit pay that likely would have been tied to student test scores. ATPE encourages educators to contact their senators now and urge them to keep merit pay and other negative provisions out of HB 3 when it moves through the Senate. For additional information and direct communication links to lawmakers, ATPE members should visit Advocacy Central.

In lieu of HB 3, various other bills were discussed during Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee meeting, with topics ranging from sex ed to charter school regulation to accountability laws. The committee also voted to advance several bills, such as Senate Bill (SB) 1412 to allow a school at risk of closure to execute an accelerated campus excellence turnaround plan. For more on Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee hearing, read this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

The committee will meet again on April 23, 2019, to hear bills relating to school district funding and governance, student internships, staff development, and more. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for coverage of the hearing and announcements when HB 3 is scheduled for hearing.


On Wednesday, April 18, the full Senate passed a bill to further restrict the ability of school district employees and school board members to talk about political content at school.

SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) amends existing “political advertising” laws and was passed by a vote of 25 to 6. Senators who voted against the ATPE-opposed bill were Sens. Jose Menendez, Borris Miles, Beverly Powell, Kel Seliger, John Whitmire, and Judith Zaffirini.

During the Senate floor debate, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. amended the bill to add prohibitions on electioneering using school resources by charter school employees or governing board members. Charter schools had not been included in the original version of SB 1569 as filed. Sen. Fallon also agreed to amend the bill on the floor to strike language from the original version that would have prohibited school districts from being able to share information that factually describes the purpose of a bond measure and does not advocate for its passage or defeat.

SB 1569 no longer includes highly troubling language in its original version that would have prohibited school employees from advocating for or against “a political philosophy” or “a matter of public interest.” However, ATPE notes that the bill still includes overly broad language aimed at stifling political involvement by public school employees, contractors, or board members. SB 1569 as passed by the Senate greatly expands the existing definition of political advertising to include support or opposition for a candidate, political party, public officer, or measure that is “directed to an individual person or multiple persons through any form of communication.” While Sen. Fallon indicated during floor debate that he does not intend for his bill to prevent educators from talking to one another about politics, especially after school hours, the language of the bill itself as quoted above suggests otherwise.

SB 1569 as passed by the Senate would also subject public school employees to criminal penalties if they “facilitate” legislative advocacy by students. ATPE is disappointed that senators would support legislation to prevent educators from teaching students about the legislative process without fear of being arrested.

Now that SB 1569 has been passed by the Senate, ATPE urges educators to contact their state representatives and ask them to oppose this unnecessary anti-public education bill. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central for additional information on SB 1569 and communication tools.

Other bills on the move this session that have garnered scrutiny from the education community include HB 281 by Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville)  and SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) relating to political subdivisions’ use of public money for lobbying activities. These bills would prohibit school districts from using public funds to pay for lobbying, whether by an employee of the district paid to lobby or an outside association that uses the public funds for activities that might include lobbying. Neither bill would affect the ability of school district employees to use their own personal funds to join associations, such as ATPE, that engage in lobbying activities.


Legislators, staffers, and stakeholders crowded a conference room Thursday, April 18, 2019, for a quick meeting of the House Public Education Committee to vote on bills.

The House Public Education Committee met twice this week to hear bills on topics such as civics education, bullying, and virtual schools.

During the committee’s first hearing on Tuesday, April 16, ATPE offered testimony on bills like HB 496 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) aimed at improving student safety by requiring a bleeding kit program in public schools. Read ATPE’s written testimony here. ATPE also testified against HB 429 by Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), which would expand virtual school programs that may not be efficient or of adequate quality. Read ATPE’s written testimony against HB 429 here. Other bills heard on Tuesday included the ATPE-supported HB 3133 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) that would allow school district employees to use their personal leave for compensation on school holidays.

The committee met again on Thursday, April 18, for a hearing that lasted until 11 pm and again featured discussions of a wide variety of topics. ATPE supported bills such as HB 414 by Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) calling for a Teacher Protection Act, HB 3403 by Rep. Phillip Cortez (D-San Antonio) to require school district employment policies to include anti-bullying measures for educators, and HB 3638 by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) to repeal certain laws identified as unnecessary or duplicative by a mandate relief working group on which ATPE served last year.

The committee also convened while the House was in session on Thursday to vote out additional bills, such as Rep. Gina Hinojosa’s HB 43 on charter admission policies and Rep. Diego Bernal’s HB 4242 calling for a study of the readability of STAAR tests.

Read more about the bills considered by the House Public Education Committee in this week’s comprehensive blog posts from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier here and here.


ATPE has long advocated for Texas lawmakers to increase funding of educators’ pension programs through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). As we have been reporting throughout the session, the 86th Legislature is considering ATPE-supported bills to increase state contributions to the TRS pension fund and provide retirees with a 13th check.

In support of this ongoing effort, ATPE has joined forces with Equable, a national nonprofit organization that works to facilitate retirement plan sustainability and income security, to promote pension reforms this session that will address the TRS funding shortfall and help ensure that Texas educators have a stable retirement plan in the future. ATPE and Equable are urging educators to reach out to their legislators in support of bills like SB 12, which is scheduled for debate by the full House next week.

Learn more about our TRS-related advocacy and find additional resources at PayTheBillTX.org.


The one bill that the 86th Legislature must pass in order to avoid a special session – the state’s budget bill – is making further progress. Members of the House and Senate have voted to send HB 1 to a conference committee to iron out differences between the two chambers’ versions of the budget proposal.

On the House side, Appropriations Committee Chairman John Zerwas will co-chair the conference committee joined by Reps. Greg Bonnen, Sarah Davis, Oscar Longoria, and Armando Walle. Senate conferees, which noticeably included no Democratic senators, are Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson plus Sens. Joan Huffman, Lois Kolkhorst, Larry Taylor, and Robert Nichols. The HB 1 conference committee has planned its first meeting for Tuesday, April 23.

Also sent to a conference committee was the legislature’s supplemental appropriations bill for the current biennium, SB 500. That bill’s conference committee is similarly  co-chaired by Sen. Nelson and Rep. Zerwas. The other conference committee members for SB 500 are Sens. Huffman, Kolkhorst, Taylor, and Chuy Hinojosa, along with Reps. Giovanni Capriglione, Mary Gonzalez, Rick Miller, and Toni Rose.

Senate Education Committee postpones merit pay and school finance discussion for one week

The Senate Education Committee, meeting today, has postponed its consideration of a major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, until next week. Originally on the agenda for today’s meeting, the hearing of the bill by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) was pushed back a week to allow the Senate more time to complete its drafting of a Senate committee substitute for the bill.

HB 3 is now expected to be heard by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, April 23.

As we have reported here on Teach the Vote, the engrossed version of HB 3 passed the Texas House with a near unanimous vote of 148-1. The House bill language reflected changes made in the House Public Education Committee, which Rep. Huberty chairs, to address concerns of ATPE and numerous other stakeholders. Significant changes made to the original bill as filed included removal of a controversial merit pay plan that would have tied teacher pay to student performance (likely measured by standardized test scores), which the overwhelming majority of the education community including all of the state’s major teacher organizations opposed. Language that would have enabled school districts to opt out of the state’s minimum salary schedule was also removed from HB 3 as filed by the House Public Education Committee. During floor debate of HB 3, the House also added a provision requiring an across-the-board pay raise for all school district employees except administrators. For these reasons and its addition of $9 billion into funding Texas public schools and property tax relief, ATPE was proud to support the House’s engrossed version of HB 3.

ATPE is urging educators to contact their senators now about HB 3 to share feedback on this important bill that is expected to be heard next week. Of particular concern is the language in the bill pertaining to educator pay. Although the Senate has already passed its own bill calling for a $5,000 pay raise for teachers and librarians, leaders in the Senate have also expressed interest in adding merit pay to any school finance bill that passes this session. For instance, Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who is sponsoring HB 3 in the Senate, also filed his own school finance reform bill that includes both merit pay for select teachers and controversial outcomes-based funding tied to students’ test performance (Senate Bill (SB) 4).

Now that HB 3 has made its way to the upper chamber, ATPE is urging the Senate to keep merit pay out of HB 3 and avoid changing the bill in such a manner that would erode its widespread support and momentum this session.

For additional information and direct communication links to lawmakers, ATPE members are urged to visit Advocacy Central.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 5, 2019

It was another groundbreaking week in the Texas legislature, and here’s a look at the headlines from ATPE Governmental Relations:


On Wednesday, the Texas House of Representatives passed landmark school finance reform legislation. By a vote of 148-1, Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill 3 passed the lower chamber, clearing the way for its consideration next by the Texas Senate.

The ATPE-supported school finance bill as finally passed by the House allocates billions in new money for public schools, reduces recapture, and provides homeowners with property tax relief. The House added bipartisan compromise language to HB 3 during Wednesday’s floor debate to ensure that all full-time public school district employees in non-administrator roles will also receive pay raises.

Read more about the bill and Wednesday’s major vote in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as attention turns to the Senate to find out how the upper chamber will respond to the school finance bill.


The Senate Education Committee and House Public Education Committee both held multiple meetings this week to hear a variety of education bills.

The Senate Education Committee’s meeting on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, largely focused on hearing bills pertaining to dual credit. The agenda for Thursday, April 4, included a host of bills relating to virtual schools, including some bills that ATPE opposes. Other pending bills previously heard by the committee were also voted out with favorable recommendations for the full Senate. Read more about the Senate committee’s activities this week in blog posts here and here from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins who covered the hearings.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Public Education Committee’s Tuesday hearing covered topics ranging from pre-K to technology and educator preparation. The agenda for the committee’s Thursday hearing also featured a wide variety of issues, including one bill that ATPE opposes to require school districts to let home-schooled students participate in UIL activities. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier covered the House Public Education Committee hearings, and you can read her reports on the two meetings from this week in blog posts here and here.


ATPE is urging educators to oppose two Senate bills that would endanger free speech rights and limit the ability to teach students about content that relates to “a political philosophy” or “a matter of public interest.” The bills are Senate Bill 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) and Senate Bill 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), and both of them got a favorable nod from the Senate State Affairs committee this week.

SB 1569 and SB 905 would expand current laws that restrict the use of public resources for “political advertising.” The bills are unnecessary, since state law already prohibits using school resources for electioneering which is enforced by the Attorney General, and these two bills will have harmful unintended consequences.

SB 1569 would broaden the definition of political advertising, impose harsh restrictions on political speech by public school employees, and make it nearly impossible to teach students about elections or civic responsibility or anything deemed to fall under the vague category of “a matter of public interest.” SB 904 also tries to limit political speech by restricting access to government communication systems like a school district’s Wi-Fi network. It also calls for fining any third party that sends political advertising to a government email address. SB 904 will unreasonably penalize innocent third parties and have a chilling effect on free speech and political involvement by educators, even making it hard to teach students about anything related to politics.

Both SB 1569 and SB 904 appear to be reactions to the surge in educator participation in elections last year, and both bills are likely to spark constitutional challenges if passed. Based on their obvious targeting of the education community, both bills are reminiscent of unsuccessful efforts last legislative session to dissuade educators from joining professional associations that advocate for public education. With yesterday’s committee vote, these two bills have the potential to reach the full Senate for a floor debate very soon. ATPE is urging educators to contact their senators and ask them to reject SB 1569 and SB 904. Read more about the bills in this blog post. ATPE members can click here to visit Advocacy Central and send a quick message to their senator.


As we have been reporting here on Teach the Vote, the legislature is considering ATPE-supported bills to increase contributions into the TRS pension fund. This week the House Committee on Pensions, Investments and Financial Services considered one of the bills, Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which the full Senate has already passed unanimously.

SB 12 is being sponsored on the Senate side by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R- League City), who chairs the Article III (education) subcommittee in House Appropriations and is the author of another bill to increase funding for TRS via House Bill (HB) 9. (That bill, which ATPE also supports, was already heard by the House Pensions committee last week.) ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that during this week’s hearing on SB 12, Chairman Bonnen offered a committee substitute version of Senate Bill 12 that would replace its language with the language from his HB 9. After a brief hearing on the bill, the committee took the somewhat unusual step of immediately voting the committee substitute version of SB 12 favorably out of committee and recommending that it go to the full House for further consideration. The bill, which appears to be on an expedited track, will next go to the House Calendars Committee which has the authority to set the bill on a House calendar for a scheduled for debate. Once the bill has been approved by the full House, which it is expected to easily do, it will return to the Senate where Sen. Huffman will likely send SB 12 to a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate language.

While both versions of the bill would increase the overall contribution rate into the TRS pension system and provide current retirees with a 13th check, the House language does so by focusing the entire increase on the state’s contribution rate without raising the rates of educators or school districts. Additionally, the House version provides for a substantially larger 13th check, up to $2400 per retiree vs $500 dollars per retiree in the Senate version of the bill.


 

Texas House approves landmark school finance bill

Chairman Huberty addresses the Texas House before its final vote approving House Bill 3, April 3, 2019.

A major effort to improve the state’s school finance system took a giant step forward today after the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill (HB) 3 this afternoon.

The bill, authored by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), adds billions in new funding for Texas public schools, as well as tax relief for local property owners who have dealt with the increasing burden of funding public education while the state’s share of funding responsibility has decreased over the years. Efforts to reform the school funding system last session, also spearheaded by Chairman Huberty, failed after the House and Senate could not reach an agreement in 2017, despite debating the issue extensively in both a regular and special session. Instead, the legislature convened a commission to study the issue over the last two years. HB 3 approved by the lower chamber today reflects a massive amount of work and compromise.

In a press release issued today, ATPE expressed thanks to House members and, in particular, Chairman Huberty and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) for their leadership in moving the bill forward. “ATPE provided input on HB 3, and we are grateful that the concerns of Texas educators were given meaningful consideration,” said ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes. “HB 3 as adopted by the full House today represents a major step forward in replacing our outdated school funding system with one that will prioritize funding for students who need it the most, place greater emphasis on early learning, alleviate some of the burden on local taxpayers, and help Texas recruit and retain the best teachers,” added Dr. Holmes.

During today’s floor debate, the House added language to ensure that as school districts receive additional funding, their employees will be guaranteed pay raises. The floor amendment was authored by Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) and received bipartisan support plus the approval of the bill’s author. As amended, HB 3 now requires districts to spend at least 25 percent of any increase in the basic allotment on salary increases for their full-time employees, except for administrators. One-quarter of those salary increases may be doled out at the district’s discretion, while 75 percent of the increases must be funded in an across-the-board manner giving an equal amount to each eligible employee. Other pay raise amendments that had been pre-filed were withdrawn once it became clear that the House leadership would accept the Turner amendment.

ATPE also appreciates that the House kept other language out of HB 3 that might have derailed its chances for passing today. For example, there was no appetite for an amendment filed by Rep. Matt Schaefer attempting to add merit pay back into the bill. Citing the work of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, Rep. Schaefer argued that the state’s current compensation system for teachers “values tenure” rather than quality. A merit pay proposal was originally included in HB 3 as filed but was removed after ATPE and other educator groups expressed concerns about it and the emphasis it would inevitably place on standardized test scores. Rep. Schaefer withdrew the amendment today in the face of obvious opposition to it.

The House’s final vote on HB 3 today was 148-1. Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) was the lone “no” vote on the bill. Speaker Bonnen exercised his right to cast a supporting vote from the chair, which typically occurs only for bills that are a very high priority of the House leadership or when there is a need for a tie-breaking vote.

Today’s vote helped fulfill Speaker Bonnen’s pledge to make passing a school finance reform bill a top priority; Bonnen announced right after becoming speaker on opening day of this legislative session that he was stocking the House members’ lounge with disposable cups reading, “School Finance Reform – The Time is Now.”

HB 3 heads next to the Texas Senate, where Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) has filed his own school finance bill, Senate Bill 4, but has largely waited for the House to act on its more comprehensive bill.

House committee advances major school finance reform bill

Today the House Committee on Public Education voted to move forward a comprehensive school finance reform bill. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) offered a new committee substitute version of his House Bill (HB) 3 today, which the committee approved by a vote of 13 to zero.

The committee substitute for HB 3 reflects changes that were made in response to testimony on the original bill as filed. As we reported here on our blog, ATPE testified neutrally on HB 3 at last week’s committee hearing. We supported the bill’s provision of additional funding for public schools, tax relief, and other positive measures, but ATPE opposed language in the original bill that would have allowed school districts to exempt themselves from complying with the state’s minimum salary schedule and a controversial merit pay proposal. The substitute version of the bill approved today removes those portions of HB 3, which all four of the state’s major teacher groups and several individual educators opposed in testimony last week. ATPE greatly appreciates the willingness of Chairman Huberty and the House leadership to hear our concerns, and we are happy to support the new and improved version of this important bill as it moves forward.

HB 3 does not include an across-the-board educator pay raise in the same manner as the Senate’s well-publicized Senate Bill 3, but the House bill advanced today would raise the state’s minimum salary schedule by increasing the basic allotment from $5,140 up to $6,030. Additionally, with Chairman Huberty’s striking from HB 3 a controversial merit pay plan that was tied to a $140 million educator effectiveness allotment, school districts will be able instead to use those funds for incentives and pay raises to help staff quality teachers at high needs campuses, in rural schools, and in areas experience a critical teacher shortage. Other bills proposing an across-the-board pay raise for certain educators continue to be debated this session.

View the newest version of HB 3 here, along with the author’s summary of changes made to the bill. View ATPE’s press release on today’s committee vote approving HB 3 here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the progress of HB 3, which is expected to be sent to the House floor for its consideration within the next couple of weeks.